Fresno City Council members voiced no objections Thursday to allowing residents to water their landscaping up to three days a week during the hot summer, and two days a week during the milder spring and fall months.
A wet winter with ample rainfall is creating the relief for residents who want to keep their lawns green. The city’s stringent one-day-a-week winter watering schedule will come to an end on April 30.
While there was no formal vote taken Thursday, council members concurred with a recommendation by Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda on a three-tiered schedule. It seeks to strike a balance between continued conservation to reduce strain on the underground aquifer, from which much of the city’s water is pumped, and recognizing that above-average rain on the Valley floor and an abundant snowpack represent an easing of years of drought.
Esqueda's proposal calls for allowing outdoor irrigation and water use two days a week in April, May, September and October. During June, July and August, irrigation would be allowed three days a week. Only one watering day will be allowed from November through March.
The two-day-a-week schedule will begin on May 1, when odd-numbered addresses will be allowed to irrigate on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and even-numbered addresses watering on Wednesdays and Sundays. No outdoor watering is allowed during the daytime hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“When is it hottest? In June, July and August, it makes sense to have three days a week there,” Esqueda told The Bee this week. “When is it the coolest? In the winter. And the rainfall follows a similar pattern. … (a one-, two- and three-day) schedule might be a happy medium, where it fits nature. How do we match how much we water with what nature makes available to us?”
When is it hottest? In June, July and August, it makes sense to have three days a week there.
Thomas Esqueda, Fresno public utilities director
The only concern was voiced by Councilman Garry Bredefeld, who said changing irrigation timers back and forth during the year “might be fraught with a lot of confusion” for residents.
Esqueda acknowledged the potential for confusion. “It will be a challenge figuring out what month they’re in, two days or three days a week,” he said. But, Esqueda added, the city’s past experience with changing water schedules has shown that “once people get used to it, it worked really well.”
Over the past few years, as California imposed strict conservation goals on cities, Fresno’s summer watering was restricted to two days a week. But this winter was the second in a row with above-average rain and snow in the region, and the state has eased its mandatory water conservation goals.
Still, the underground water table from which Fresno draws much of its water continues to be depleted. In 2013-14, the water table fell by nearly four feet, and it’s dropped by smaller amounts in each of the past two water years. Allowing three days a week in the summer gives the city some room for improvement in conservation if another severe drought strikes.
“I promise you, another drought’s going to come, and if we stayed at two days in the summer, there’s nowhere to go but down to one day a week,” Esqueda said. A three-day schedule “gives us some flexibility to drop back to two days when the drought comes. … People figured out how to keep grass green on two days a week. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t easy, but it was accomplished.”
But in addition to easing the watering restrictions, the city may also beef up its fines for residents who insist on watering on the incorrect days or more often than they are allowed under the schedule. Fresno currently issues a warning notice for a first violation, based either on observation by water officials or data recorded by meters, followed by $45 fines for second, third and fourth instances, and the shutting off of water service after the fourth violation within a year. The number of violations has, however, gone up each year since 2013.
The new recommendation, which will require a formal vote of the City Council to take effect, would provide a written notice of violation for the first violation in a calendar year, $50 for a second violation, $100 for a third violation, and $200 for a fourth and any additional violations during the year.
A new surface water treatment plant being built in southeast Fresno, in tandem with a 12-year-old treatment plant in northeast Fresno, will likely go a long way toward reducing Fresno’s need to pump groundwater and allow the water table to recover. “Every gallon I can put out of the water plants is a gallon I don’t have to pull out of the ground,” Esqueda said. The two plants together will be able to produce a peak supply of 110 million gallons a day, compared to peak summer demand of 160 million to 170 million gallons a day across the city.
“During the summers we’ll always have to kick in those wells, but it will be less than we do now, and the pumps will run less often,” Esqueda said.